Bosnian Muslim Women’s Rituals
Bulas Singing, Reciting and Teaching in Sarajevo
An educational film by Professor Catharina Raudvere, Copenhagen, and Dr Zilka Spahić-Šiljak, Sarajevo.
The production of the film was made possible thanks to generous funding from The Carlsberg Foundation, Copenhagen, the Norwegian Research Council, and the University of Copenhagen. It is a non-commercial product and intended for university classes to document women in charge of Muslim praying traditions in Bosnia and to give a glimpse of the historical roots of these practices.
About the documentary
'Bosnian Muslim Women’s Rituals' presents women who come together to pray according to the Muslim ritual legacy of the city of Sarajevo in Bosnia. They participate in singing songs with a long history and listen to the recitations and teachings offered by women with extensive experience of this kind of gathering. This film invites you to experience some Bosnian Muslim women’s commitments as ritual leaders and their rich vocal performances.
Much of what you will see in this film is specific for Sarajevo in terms of the style of singing, outfits and ways of socializing. These rituals have been performed in the city for centuries and belong to the Muslim history of South-Eastern Europe. This region constituted the fringe of the Ottoman Empire for several hundred years. Therefore we will hear singing and recitation in Bosnian and Turkish as well as Arabic. On other occasions, recitation is also made in Persian. It is an indication of how important Sarajevo was as a melting pot where Turkish Ottoman and European culture blended. This remains its legacy today, to a great extent thanks to the special performative prayer practices that have preserved the musical and poetic traditions of the city.
Muslim Women Singing, Reciting and Teaching in Sarajevo
A woman who functions as a ritual leader of this kind is not an imam; she is known in Bosnian as a bula. This title indicates that she knows how to lead and structure a prayer gathering, that she has the authority to interpret the Quran and other canonical texts, and that she can give advice and knows religious decorum in difficult or joyous situations: what prayers to say, how to formulate a sermon.
There are a variety of ritual gatherings that a bula can lead, in private homes or in mosques. This film project has aimed to document the bulas’ rituals and the practices surrounding them, and to present the voices of both young and old women. The film can only present a selection of rituals. The best-known and most frequently performed genres are mevlud and tevhid, both including the repetition of Allah’s names, zikr. Intense prayers, Quran recitations and the singing of songs characterize all of them.
With formal or informal Islamic education, the bulas of Sarajevo have been in charge of the structure of mevlud and tevhid ceremonies for generations. Being familiar with the Quran and the rich literature that praises the Prophet in the original languages, these women have the knowledge and authority to compose the framework of a gathering. Each mevlud and tevhid has its individual character where verses from the Quran, prayers, blessings and poems are to be chosen in interaction with the family or organizer, in accordance with the nature of the occasion.
Today young bulas learn through participating when they receive ritual assignments from the experienced bulas. In this way they learn to relate to the Ottoman legacy of the mevlud tradition. By connecting that legacy with the lives of modern women, they make it relevant to the present time.